Friday, April 24, 2009

simple #2

It’s raining and windy. Not exactly cold but alluding to a wintry state. The stomach follows, desiring soup.

Food fit for those with a cold, time poor or hankering for warmth*.

Soup: Corn, onion, garlic, ginger, carrots and assorted greens. Simmered til soft in water. Chunks of white fish poached in the soup before serving. Then flavoured with miso and tamari. A few rice noodles to add ballast. Delicate and soothing.

The SE made what I would call a “boy’s soup”. What is it about some men and flavouring? Something akin to colour-blindness. An everything-but-the-kitchen-sink concoction, including Brussels sprouts, with the unusual addition of mixed spice. Don’t try this at home! My failure to appreciate did not bring good humour into the home.

Porridge: Oatmeal, call it what you will. This season’s combo is oats, leftover cooked brown rice if there is any about, and banana. After cooking I’ve added passionfruit, a dash of maple and soymilk.

Omelette: End of the week vegetables sautéed with onion and garlic, beaten egg and a few olives.

One pot or pan. Simple to make. Easy to digest.

Just hold the mixed spice and the sprouts!

* or all three in my case

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

alert and alarmed

I was going to call this “The pig and I”, as some misguided tribute to Deborah Kerr but I digress, the topic of today’s post is no laughing matter.

Well, it may be to carnivores. In fact it is guaranteed to put a smile on the average meat-eater, in a schadenfreude kind of way.

So, I am at a café having a little breakfast. It’s been a while since I ate there but it was a ridiculously early hour to be up and walking on a Sunday morning, making the before 9 am eating choices in that neck of the woods limited.

The specials looked good, so I opted for “potato rosti with smoked salmon, poached egg and dill hollandaise”.

Service was prompt and friendly, the coffee just right.

I have a bit of a thing about potato for breakfast and a good rosti is an item of wonder. My mum used to make a great one from parboiled spuds, grated and fried in rounds. In Switzerland I almost rostied myself out, each one more fabulous than the last.

A rosti is not a hash brown, a latke or goddess forbid a “tater tot”. Gourmet’s version is pretty standard. What arrived was largely mashed potato shaped into a sizable disk and fried til brown. In other words, refried mash. Not a rosti. There was some cooked spinach on top that didn’t get a mention on the menu. Fortunately I like spinach.

What I don’t like in my piscaterian breakfast however is bacon. Yes halfway through, when I had a mouthful of “rosti” without the smoked salmon I realised there was another texture in the mix that felt suspiciously meaty. I stopped eating and flagged down a passing waiter and asked. “Oh the rosti has onion and bacon in it”, he nonchalantly answered.

What? Some people are allergic to onion. But we will leave that issue aside for now. Bacon avoidance includes a long list of reasons – religious, health and ethical, as well as life threatening reactions to preservatives.

I felt sick. Ok, this is the bit when the carnivores can have a good chuckle. I know it’s hilarious, isn’t it? However what hit me was two fold. One, when you stop eating meat you loose the enzymes you need to digest it (in most cases you can produce them again with repeated exposure to meat) causing the ingested flesh to trigger some short term gut err, discomfort. But what struck me on a much deeper level was my empathy for the pig. Just read Peter Singer if you need to know more about the way we treat this incredible creature, so genetically similar to humans we harvest their heart valves as spares for our own race.

I didn’t initially stop eating meat over 20 years ago over ethical issues, it was because I no longer desired it. In recent years, this decision has been reinforced by humanitarian reasons along with the carbon footprint.

Ethics, in other words.

So how did the café deal with the problem ethically?

They apologised and offered me a replacement breakfast.
They promised to amend the blackboard specials immediately.
When I decided I didn’t feel like eating and I just wanted to go, my bill came with another apology and was charged for only the coffee.

But the board did not change. Not in the 10 minutes I stayed for anyway.

I am not here to vilify a local business. They did the right thing money-wise, but how many other pig-averse customers ordered pseudo-rosti in the meantime?

Tin Pot Café - 248 St Georges Rd, North Fitzroy.

You decide!

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Reflection on a kitchen far, far away

The kitchen I refer to is my own.

It is not a dream kitchen but miles better than it used to be. The recent trip to my homeland provoked a mental list of all the things I am grateful for, in my not-perfect Melbourne kitchen.

In the few days I have been back I have felt oddly time shifted, not helped by looming deadlines (do I really want to write an unpaid article of 2,500-5,000 words for my professional journal following on from a recent talk I gave?), GST to be calculated and work, of course. Eating has been simple. Another round of my current obsession harisa with vegetables and fish, morphed to a second meal when the leftovers were augmented with some canned beans and a tub of roasted, pureed tomatoes from the freezer. Round two, as a thick soup with a little less bite from the increasingly fiery chillies we are growing, was a perfect Friday night dinner with slabs of Noisette’s wonderful shallot bread. A post-Easter gift of Adora chocolates (atheist can eat chocolate any day of the year), a hot bath and a sneaky viewing of the latest Dr Who sealed the deal to make it the perfect night in, to end the week I have had.

What has this got to do with my dream kitchen? A well stocked freezer and pantry, fresh spices, a good knife and my favourite pot!

Here’s my wish list of simple kitchen pleasures, what’s yours?

A decent sharp knife: It’s so easy to sharpen your own. A block or steel, the right angle, a little perseverance. A knife of the right heft and size for the job with a honed blade transforms a chore into a joy.

A little elbowroom: My space is tiny but there is room either side of the stove so pots can be stirred without banging your elbow on abutting walls. Worst design feature ever in my parents 80’s kitchen makeover - building in a wall oven a few centimetres away from the stovetop.

A good pot: Did I mention there is Alzheimer’s in my family? My parents still have a big aluminium pot that they cook with on a weekly basis that they refuse to replace. I love my cast iron wonder pot, it cooks slowly and evenly and is easy to clean without soap.

Gas cook top: A responsive element that quickly heats and cools. I’ve lost the knack of cooking with electricity, it takes forever to heat and then when the pot finally comes to the boil it bubbles its head off for ages before dropping to a simmer. A gas wok burner and a quieter one, to place a heat diffuser mat atop to cook porridge or a pilaf. Perfect.

A well stocked pantry, fridge, freezer and spice drawer: Since my father took over the reigns in the kitchen the supplies have become minimalist. I acutely missed fresh stock in the freezer and my lovely Marigold bouillon powder as a chemical-free flavour booster, a vibrant array of herbs and spices (on hand was a generic curry powder, very old cinnamon and some fresh curly parsley) and the wonderful organic fruit ‘n veg I love so much. Plus the little gems in the freezer from this year’s harvest.

What I had no need for was gadgets and appliances (though the Teflon toasted sandwich maker provided quick lunches for my cheese loving parents and the previously mentioned egg experiment). You don’t need a microwave. I reheated left over kedgeree simply by placing the dish in the top of a steamer and stirred the contents once or twice. Ten minutes is all it takes.

Unlike The Oz today in their food and wine glossy supplement, I don’t consider an avocado slicer or a $100 kettle a “Kitchen Fundamental”. Just give me a good pot, a wooden spoon, a sharp knife and fresh, simple produce, throw in a responsive stove and I am a happy cook.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

oh apparently I had a birthday

That quick tap on the keyboard at the airport was my 400th post.

Not much of a sense of occasion, sorry.

But for now a neglected day job awaits, there are cats starved of affection and the odd human being likewise.

Be back soon, promise!

PS: things to cook in a toasted sandwich maker #1:

I discovered the pepper grinder was broken as it deposited large shards of black stuff on top of the egg

Cooked perfectly and no mess.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

heading home

Am heading back across the Tasman. Will probably be blogging about blunt knives, 101 uses for a toasted sandwich maker and the consistency of kedgeree any day soon...Well maybe!

In the meantime Rita has hit town and is wanting your favourite CBD dinner spot, so Melbourne bloggers it's time to comment on your favourite little spots to grab a bite in the heart of town. Am sure she knows the big ones (Vue etc), my vote is for Cookie.

And yours?


Monday, April 06, 2009

more on gurnard

It appears I am not the only one to sing the praises of gurnard in the past week. Hot on the heels of my last post someone on ABC radio has also spruiked the wonders of this previously underrated fish.

This became apparent when I was lining up at my local fish shop on Saturday morning. This family run business has been supplying the inner-North with quality seafood for over thirty years and their popularity runs to a queue down the street some days.

I was pleased to see some gurnard in the shop window as I took my place in line. The fillets looked fresh and the price moderate. As I inched my way closer I was dismayed to find the tray being emptied but relieved when the person in front of me enquired about more and was happy to wait for some to be filleted. I remarked on its popularity and was informed about someone discussing the wonders of gurnard on (some unknown to me) radio spot that morning.

Hopefully this will not lead to overfishing and an escalation in price. After all, the gurnard and I are only just getting reacquainted.

fresh gurnard fillets in all their glory

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Friday, April 03, 2009

south of the border

A package arrived for the SE. “Do not crush” the oversized envelope implored.

Inside was this.

One perfect habanero chilli, home grown by a friend of his in Sydney.

We were told to save the seeds to grow our own little golden bundle of heat and so we have.

It was almost too pretty to eat. What to do with it? In the end, to best appreciate the flavour rather than just the temperature I decided to put it in a salsa. Without the seeds, half a habanero in a sauce for two was enough to enjoy the well-rounded, slightly citrusy tones of the pepper, without being blown away. A whole habanero would have been far more interesting though!

A meal fit for a pepper
(Quantities are for 2 and are just a suggestion)

I based this meal around the salsa. Originally it was to be fish tacos but pure laziness stopped me from diverting from my journey, to buy some shells.

Mexican rice of sorts
vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup long grain rice
1 carrot, grated
1 cup vegetable stock, hot
2 tablespoons tomato paste

Heat the oil in the pan, sauté the onion then add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Toss in the rice and give it a good swirl around til it is well coated with oil. Add the carrot. Lastly add the hot stock with the tomato paste stirred through it. Stir one more time, then place a lid on the pan and sit it on a heat diffuser mat to cook slowly for 25 minutes. Stand for a further 10 minutes with the heat off and lid on.

1/2 habanero chilli, deseeded, very finely chopped
4 medium tomatoes, skins removed, finely chopped
small handful, coriander leaves and stalks, chopped
squeeze lime juice
pinch sea alt

Combine in a bowl.

1 large avocado, mashed
juice of 1/2-1 lime
1 clove garlic, crushed
generous dash, Tabasco sauce
pinch of sea salt

Combine the ingredients, adding the lime juice on the avocado immediately so it doesn’t oxidise and loose it’s vibrant colour.

Pan fried fish
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2-1 cup cornflour
1 tsp smoky paprika
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 fillets, fish
vegetable oil

Toast the cumin and coriander in a pan for a couple of minutes, shaking frequently, then pound using a mortar and pestle. Combine the spices, flour and salt on a plate, then dredge your fish. Remember to shake off any excess flour. I used gurnard, a delightful, underrated fish in this country but a favourite in New Zealand (and at just over $3 a fillet turned out to be good value). It holds together well in the pan and has a slightly sweet flavour. (As an aside, A. A. Gill once described gurnard as ”the Amy Winehouse of battered fish").

Back to the kitchen. The rice has finished cooking and is doing its ten minutes of rest with the lid on. The salsa and guacamole are made and the table is laid. All you need to do now is fry the fish. This is one time a shallow fry is called for, heat your oil to a decent temperature making sure the fish will sizzle when you put it in the pan. About three minutes a side will do it depending on the thickness of the fish. The average fry pan will cook two decent fillets at a time, don’t be tempted to cram it with more. If cooking for more than two people do it in batches and keep warm in the oven, otherwise your fish will stew rather than fry as the temperature drops in the pan.

Cook, drain on paper towels. Pile rice on the plate; artfully arrange your fried fish on top. Top with salsa and guacamole to taste.

I make no claims of authenticity with these recipes. The rice, I read a few recipes then promptly forgot them. The idea was to add a few vegetables and a little flavour, as a background rather than to compete with the other tastes on the plate. I think most Mexican rice’s are more tomatoey than this but I wanted to showcase the salsa, not the rice. It was a perfect balance.

The coating from the fish was purely from imagination. The paprika gave a barely detectable smoky back note; the spices were subtle but complemented the flavour of the gurnard. I always use cornflour, I like the feeling of its silkiness and when fried is a bit crispier than wheat flour. As a bonus it is gluten-free.

This was a fun meal to make. Despite the four separate components it can be put together in the time it takes to cook the rice. While getting vegetables into people in this house is never an issue, it would be perfect for those who need a little sneaky action to get their “5 a day”.

And the taste? Perfect!

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